Irish Whiskey Round
Posted by Degan on February 18th, 2011
I was raised on Scotch, with an occasional swig of Canadian Club, so it wasn’t until I got to university that I was really introduced to Irish whiskey. My boyfriend drank Bushmills and Tullamore Dew and while I certainly had it on occasion, it wasn’t much to my liking. Over the years I’ve gained much more of an appreciation and so when a lunch at my boss’ place last week turned into an impromptu Irish whiskey tasting, I was pretty stoked. She has excellent taste, so I thought I would include all of them in this week’s whiskey round up.
To be an Irish whiskey, it has to be distilled and aged in Ireland for at least three years in some kind of wooden casks, as well as be yeast-fermented from cereal grains and distilled to less an 94.8%. It’s usually also triple-distilled but there are still lots of variations. We sampled the gamut; a couple of pure pot still whiskeys, single malts and blends.
First up were the pure pot still whiskeys – a Redbreast 15 year old and one I had never heard of, Knappogue Castle. Pot still whiskey is unique to Ireland and means that the whiskey was made in a pot still with both raw and malted barley instead of continuous distillation where the process is – surprise – continuous and in a more industrial fashion, stills are replenished as soon as they’re emptied.
The Redbreast was a rich, gorgeous whiskey that lolls around on your tongue and goes deep with the complexity of flavours, ending with a bit of spice. It’s incredibly drinkable but also sophisticated and layered. To me, it’s the intersection between bourbon and single malt Scotch. I love this whiskey and even with its sensuality and punch, I could drink it regularly.
The Knappogue Castle, on the other hand was lighter in colour – golden yellow – and similarly mellow on the palate, tasting of citrus and flowers, much like a Sauvignon Blanc wine. It felt washed out after the richness of the Redbreast but that might be an unfair juxtaposition.
From there we went to a couple of Tyrconnell single malts, the standard Tyrconnell and a 10 year old single malt aged in Madeira casks. A single malt uses only malted barley and is a distilled by a single distillery in a pot still. Scotch drinkers seem to have cornered the market on single malt, but it’s just as valid coming from Ireland.
Named for a racehorse, the Tyrconnell single malt is sexy and drinkable., tasting a little bit like hay and toast, I liked it a lot and could definitely drink it regularly, whereas the 10 year old Madeira-aged Tyrconnell seemed overly sweet and for me, less of an every day whiskey. It was a little bit fruity with a taste of apricots that was interesting, but not for more than one drink.
Finally we were on to the blended whiskeys. There was a Jameson Gold Reserve and a Bushmills 1608, released for their 400th anniversary. I’ve had my fill of plenty of Jamesons and Bushmills over the years, but I’d never tried either of these. The Gold Reserve was delicious and rich with a honey nose and honeyed palate too, developing into a smooth, sophisticated long finish. “Gold” is a good name for it because it has a golden feel to it…high praise for a blend.
The 1608, on the other hand, was a bitter brew – sharp tones jostling against the caramel notes -and I abandoned it.
What a day! I wish we had some Connemara to round it out, since I haven’t tasted it since the summer, but it was such a treat to taste so many good Irish whiskies together. I almost think I should make it a regular thing…
Image used with permission from caroscuro.